Miss Marple said "[Good-day]" in the elevator, but it was Monday and still early, and Ray wasn't awake enough to think anything of it.
Jerry at the gas station said, "[How's it going?]" – which was pretty weird, but he was always taking night courses at the community college. Maybe he'd actually learned something despite inhaling gas fumes for most of his formative years.
The car radio was playing an Edith Piaf song that made Ray's teeth ache. He switched it off, but it continued looping around his head like a gymnast's streamer.
"[Hi, Ray]," said Frannie, when he walked in the station, "[Hey, you look like you got run over by a sixteen-wheeler.]"
Ray's skin twitched, and he just kept walking, right up to his desk. He sat down, leaned his head back, and pressed his palms against his eyelids until Welsh walked past and bellowed, "Vecchio. [My office! Now]!"
* * *
"Bonjour, monsieur. [Canadian Consulate. How may I be of service?]"
"Hey, Turnbull. Is Fraser there? I need to talk to Fraser."
"Ah, [Detective Vecchio. No, I'm sorry, Constable Fraser is out walking his deaf half-wolf. May I take a message?]"
"[Can I take a message for him to call you back? I have very fine handwriting.]"
"Uh, never mind. Is Fraser there?"
"[Why, yes. He's just walked in right this very minute. With Diefenbaker, too. Now, who was it you wanted to speak to?]"
* * *
"Good morning, Ray."
"Fraser, thank God." Ray slung an arm around Fraser's broad bilingual shoulder, barely able to restrain himself from pulling him into a full-body bear hug.
"Is everything all right, Ray? You seem a little overwrought."
"Oh jeez, you have no idea how good that sounds."
"Overwrought? I suppose it's a somewhat mellifluous word," said Fraser, his forehead creasing. "Is something wrong?"
"Oui. I mean, yeah. Haven't you noticed?" Ray stepped back, throwing his arms in the air in frustration. "Everyone's speaking French, Fraser! Welsh, Turnbull, Jerry at the gas station – even Frannie's speaking it!"
Frannie looked up from her desk. "[Yes, I'm speaking French. So what? It's Valentine's Day, and French is the language of love.]"
Ray blinked at her, and pulled Fraser down the corridor. "What about you? Why aren't you speaking [the language canary (informer)]?"
"That's not important, Ray. What is important is that window displays are being stolen from shops all across the city. We have to investigate at once."
* * *
"Okay, uh, ma'am, did you see the thief?"
"[Yes, he had blond hair that stuck straight up. Tall, thin. He took all the hearts and chocolates.]" The gift shop owner was on the verge of tears. "[I spent hours designing that display.]"
"Fraser, what's she saying?"
"She's very upset, Ray."
"I can see that."
"[Never fear, ma'am. We'll do our utmost to retrieve your precious display.]"
"[From the terrible thief of hearts.]"
"[Yes, the thief of hearts.]"
"How do you make French sound so good?"
Fraser smiled. "[Cooler than ice cream and warmer than the sun...] It's a very musical language."
* * *
"There he goes! Quick!" The thief bolted through the doorway with an armful of big red cardboard hearts and a dozen long-stemmed red roses. Ray and Fraser raced after him, in hot pursuit.
Fraser dashed up the fire escape and Ray pounded along the icy pavement. The impact of his feet against the ground juddered up through his legs and knees. He swung around the corner, grabbing a telephone pole to stop himself from sliding straight out into the road, and then he was flying up Main Street, so fast he was barely touching the ground.
The thief was a long way ahead, but Ray was gaining on him.
Then, with a shout, Fraser jumped out of the sky and knocked Ray down to the ground, whumping all the air out of his lungs.
Almost before Ray'd caught his breath, he yelled, "Fraser! What the hell?"
They were eye to eye, nose to nose, Ray panting and Fraser's cheeks flushed with exertion.
"Sorry," said Fraser breathlessly. "My mistake." There was a moment's awkward pause before he sprang to his feet and bent down to offer his hand to Ray.
* * *
"What's up with Dief? He's not eating his donut."
Dief was nosing a piece of lettuce around the lunchroom floor. Fraser waved to get the wolf's attention, and the two of them looked at each other, puzzled. Then Dief huffed and flopped to the floor.
"Is he okay?" asked Ray.
Fraser shook his head. "I think he's on a health food diet, but I can't be entirely certain. His French is atrocious."
* * *
The thief's daring raids were escalating. Not content with pinching window displays, now he'd resorted to cat-burglary and safe-cracking. Fraser looked thoughtful and serious.
Ray groaned, and laid his head on his desk.
* * *
Ray stood staring into the darkness, his stomach twisting nervously.
Fraser pelted up behind him, pushed past, and just kept on running, sinking into the gloom.
"Where are you going?" Ray yelled, his voice bouncing and echoing in the tunnel.
Fraser stopped and turned. "This is where the trail leads, Ray."
"I'm not going in there." Ray held up his hands for emphasis. "It's red and sticky, and it hurts." He took a step back and looked at the decorations around the outside of the tunnel: cupids and ghosts, vampires and hearts. "What kind of a fucked-up carnival is this place, anyway?"
But Fraser just turned back and walked deeper into the dark. Ray hesitated, but in the end he shrugged and followed. He'd follow Fraser just about anywhere.
* * *
The tunnel ended in a ballroom where everyone was dancing, only they were all doing different steps. Ray felt dizzy.
Frannie and Turnbull fox-trotted past, smiling at them. "[Hi, Fraser.]"
Behind them, Huey and Dewey were tromping each other's toes in a two-step, while Welsh did the rumba with a lithe Cuban woman.
Ray waved his badge at them all, and the music stopped with a screech. "Listen up," he yelled.
Fraser stepped in front of him and held up his hands. "Has anyone here seen a thief with a big red heart?" But he was shaking his head as he asked, and they all obediently shook their heads back at him. None of them looked at Ray.
"Fuck," said Ray. "We lost him."
* * *
They caught him in the supply closet, which was so crammed with red cut-out hearts that there was barely room for the three of them.
Even when it turned out there was only two of them.
"It was me?" asked Ray, confused. "How come I didn't know?"
Fraser was too busy arresting him to answer. "You have the right to remain silent," he said, slapping on the cuffs. "Anything you say can and will be used against you in [a court of love. You have the right to laugh this off. If you do not love, you can pretend this never happened. Understand?]"
Ray squinted at Fraser, understanding on the tip of his tongue. "[Yeah, I think I do]," he said at last, and he leaned forward and kissed Fraser softly on the lips.
* * *
And then he woke up.
The blanket had slipped sideways off the bed, and he was cold and sleepy, and there was a red paper heart crumpled in his hand. Where the hell had that come from?
He staggered to the kitchen and made coffee, and stood at the counter, drinking and staring down at the heart. It was—there was something familiar about it. Red and honest, and cleanly cut.
Ray tucked it safely into his wallet and figured he'd ask Fraser about it when he saw him. Maybe they could figure it out between them.